This month we get to know Father Gregory Tschakert, judicial vicar for the diocese. He was ordained on May 22, 1982, and is currently the pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Groton, and St. Joseph, Turton. He grew up in Florence and has an older brother and three younger sisters. Most of his relatives are farmers. His parents both came from large families, so Fr. Tschakert has many cousins along with many nieces and nephews, and grand nieces and nephews.
How did you get your call to priesthood?
Several people suggested that I should enter the seminary. The priesthood did have a certain appeal to me, so I went to the seminary with the intention of discernment. I enjoyed the seminary immensely. Being a priest has been a tremendously satisfying way of life for almost 40 years. If I hadn’t been called, I think it would have been intolerable.
What did you do before the priesthood?
I earned a degree in secondary education at Northern State University and then taught high school English and speech for four years. I also completed my Master’s in educational counseling before I enrolled at the St. Paul Seminary.
Is there a particular part of Catholicism that really fascinates you?
I like almost everything about being Catholic. Celebrating the Mass and all the sacraments have been the highlight of most of my days. I appreciate the mystery of the sacraments by which God makes himself present to his people.
Who was most influential in your life?
Throughout my life there have been different people who influenced me at different times. When I take the time to listen to other people and to reflect on their experiences and insights, I almost always come away richer for the experience. I was also blessed from early on by a number of experienced pastors who I really admired. Some of them became good friends. Each of them ministered in their unique way, and sometimes quite different from each other, but with a great love for the Church and the people.
What is your favorite part of being a priest?
I have always appreciated celebrating the sacraments, but several times I was appointed to high school teaching, which I really enjoyed, too. In recent years, I have really appreciated adult education and formation.
Who is your go-to saint?
One of the saints whom I greatly admire and often quote is St. Augustine. After a lifetime of searching, St. Augustine summarized, “Our hearts were made for you O Lord, and they will be restless until they rest in you.” He is one of the Church Fathers who assured that the Catholic Church would have very broad arms to embrace a huge variety of members. We are saved by grace, so in the Church we will always have both pacers and plodders, but once we are baptized, the Church never takes the baptism back and never ceases to care for every member, even those who stumble.
What do you do in your spare time?
From my childhood, I’ve almost always been reading a book or two, both fiction and nonfiction. I like to garden, and since my life has slowed down with a lighter workload, I walk a great deal. I also like to play cards.
What is something that most people don’t know about you?
I’m pretty transparent, so I think people often know more about me than I set out to reveal. What you see is what you get.
How can your parishioners help you become a better priest?
I think it was St. Augustine who said that good sheep give rise to good shepherds. I can’t always fulfill every need that someone expresses, but it’s always helpful if parishioners tell me what they need. And of course, I need the witness of faithful members of the Church who can encourage me in my journey.
If you could have supper with anyone from history, whom would you invite?
I would really like to meet St. Pope John XXIII. He had vast experience before he was chosen to be the Holy Father and was well acquainted with the world. Throughout his life, he was an avid observer of the many sides of life, including war, and social revolution, yet he remained hopeful. He had confidence in the Holy Spirit to bring about a new springtime in the life of the Church and the world.